Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Buckley on Reagan: December 1965 (and some comparisons to 2011)

In late 1965, William F. Buckley, Jr. offered the following reflections on the emerging Reagan candidacy for governor. One of the first things Buckley noted was that Democrats were, "…passing around the word that Reagan will be easy to take."

It’s next-to-impossible to read this and not immediately have one’s mind time-warped to modern presidential primaries in which the Democratic (and sometimes Republican) punditry religiously pronounces every cycle’s GOP field “weak,” “disappointing,” “not serious,” etc. etc.  Perhaps it would do the citizenry well to start voting for whomever has been labeled “unelectable.”

Returning to Buckley’s commentary, however, he noted that Democratic Leader of the California State Assembly, Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh, had cooked up a plan to take out Reagan in a general election.  Essentially, it consisted of trying to provoke the Gipper into revealing a “mean streak.”  The problem with this plan, as Buckley noted, was that it was rather difficult to find a mean streak in Reagan.  Even as he was suffering the slings and arrows of, “some of his Republican opponents who preach the necessity of Republican unity by blasting everyone to the right of themselves,” Reagan went about the state with nothing but positive words for his primary competitors.  His criticisms and contrasts were reserved for the Brown administration. 

In the wild horse race that has been the GOP presidential primary to this point, there’s no denying that the once-all-but-dead Gingrich campaign rocketed into the lead largely by following this Reaganesque pattern.  Will he be able to maintain it?  Who knows?  From what I'm reading, it seems that Gingrich's poll numbers have already started to drop.  What I do know is that whoever emerges from the Republican crucible is going to be in for one nasty smear attack from the Democrats.   I like seeing our primary candidates fight it out, but I hope they can learn from Reagan and fight on the basis of their ideas.  Leave the egos and narcissism at the door, folks.  The only Americans who are turned on by that, already have their candidate.

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